The team #2: Michael Vlassopoulos, Mirco Tonin & Helia Marreiros

This is the second in a series of introductory posts, outlining the different people within the Meaningful Consent project.

Hi, we are Michael Vlassopoulos, Mirco Tonin and Helia Marreiros from the division of Economics at the University of Southampton. We use experiments, both in the lab and in the field, to do research in behavioural economics with a particular focus in public and organizational economics.

Our particular areas of interest within the meaningful consent in the digital economy project (MCDE) are connected with the economics of privacy. Our aim in this project is to contribute to the behavioural economics of privacy and move a step forward developing a framework to understand the behavioural economics of meaningful consent and digital economy.
The economics of privacy attempts to study the costs and benefits associated with the protection or disclosure of personal data – for the data subject, the data holder, and for society as a whole. As a field of research, it has been active for some decades. One of the main research questions is if there is a combination of economic incentives and technological solutions to privacy issues that is acceptable for the individual and beneficial to society.

To understand the benefits of the digital economy for the individual, it is essential to study his actual behaviour, hence the behavioural economics of privacy.
In today’s digital era, increasingly many of our daily market transactions as well as social interactions are occurring online. This raises numerous questions and challenges that can be fruitfully addressed applying the standard tools in an economist’s toolbox (i.e. the rational choice model of consumer behaviour), enriched by insights stemming from Behavioural Economics (e.g. biases in decision-making) and data obtained applying experimental methods. Some exemplary research questions we are interested are:

  • Do people value online privacy?
  • Is there heterogeneity in the preferences for privacy?
  • Is there a paradox between stated attitudes toward online privacy and actual behaviour?
  • Are users aware of the “risks” associated with sharing personal information online?
    • If not, is it because of the costs associated with acquiring information (time, cognitive effort, financial cost, technological obstacles)?
    • Can sharing choices be made more meaningful through the dissemination of relevant information (or nudges) regarding the “risks”?
  • Do behavioural biases affect users’ choices regarding sharing personal information online? Here are some example of possible biases relevant in this field:
    • Bounded Rationality – Framing effects, Limited Attention
    • Endowment effect – Loss Aversion
    • Present Bias – Self Control problems, overconfidence.

Presently, we are mapping preferences for online privacy, where we observe attitudes, private actions (give private information for free) and public actions (support for a privacy advocacy group).

First, we observe if attitudes and actions are consistent across subjects or disconnected. Second, we observe how these three elements change in response to a positive/neutral/negative privacy policy frame. Specifically, those frames are statements retrieved from Facebook and Google privacy policies that are considered by users to signal a positive, neutral or negative attitude toward users.

This first study is very relevant to informed consent. Once the trade-off between privacy and services is highlighted in an intelligible way (as opposed to current terms and conditions that nobody reads), understanding how this is going to change attitudes/private actions/public actions is important. We may well expect that a negative frame affects people’s attitudes, but will it change also how they behave? Not obvious at all given the results on disconnection between attitudes and actions observed in many economic markets.

Mapping users’ preferences and behaviour on online privacy and meaningful consent can help policy makers and organizations in general to find a common ground in the “Terra incognita” that digital economy still is.

Moreover, this knowledge can help the design of automated vs manual negotiation models studied by other members of our team in the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Research Group of the School of Electronics and Computer Science.

Our final goal is that the research we produce in this project can help decisions of policy makers and organizations and therefore have an impact on society.

Consenting agents: semi-autonomous interactions for ubiquitous consent

In September, the Meaningful Consent project was represented at the UBICOMP2014 workshop “How do you solve a problem like consent?” in Seattle.

The full workshop note is available online, from the Southampton open access repository, and the abstract is below.

Ubiquitous computing, given a regulatory environment that seems to favor consent as a way to empower citizens, introduces the possibility of users being asked to make consent decisions in numerous everyday scenarios such as entering a supermarket or walking down the street. In this note we outline a model of semi-autonomous consent (SAC), in which preference elicitation is decoupled from the act of consenting itself, and explain how this could protect desirable properties of informed consent without overwhelming users. We also suggest some challenges that must be overcome to make SAC a reality.

Download the full note to continue reading about semi-autonomous agents for meaningful consent

The team #1: Enrico Gerding & Tim Baarslag

This is the first in a series of introductory posts, outlining the different people within the Meaningful Consent project.

Hi, we are Enrico Gerding and Tim Baarslag from the Agents, Interaction and Complexity Research Group of the School of Electronics and Computer Science.

Our areas of particular interest within the meaningful consent project are:

Consent support: We develop practical mechanisms, including user interface aspects, that allow users to signal consent to common scenarios in an automated manner to minimize the negative effects on users of habituation and decision fatigue, whilst taking into account the needs of service providers both in terms of ease of implementation (a factor that will influence real-world deployment) and their legal obligations for obtaining informed consent.

Negotiation support: We explore implementations of interfaces and engagement models that enable negotiation between consumers and vendors on the terms of consent and service agreements. We also investigate potential community service for group negotiation of service terms.

Automated vs Manual Negotiation for Consent: Results from these studies will act as a foundation for our explorations into the design of automated vs manual negotiation. We anticipate that classes of consent may emerge and that therefore an agent based approach to manage the possible combinations of consent terms may be designed to handle these multiple, micro consent requests. This approach – introducing potentially low cost negotiation systems into the economy – in itself offers a new economic model.